Just Say No to Quack

By: Christy A. Zlatkus, Esquire

Parent A: I put Molly’s baseball uniform in her backpack so you would have it when you take her to practice tonight.

Parent B:  How dare you sign my daughter up for baseball!!!!!  Do you think she is a boy? Do you want her to turn out to be an ugly piece of sh*t like you?  You are a narcissist!!! You stopped taking care of yourself years ago you ugly hag. I don’t even know where the practice is tonight.  How dare you schedule her for something on my time!

Parent A:  You agreed to baseball!  We talked about it over e-mail last month and you said OK.  Molly loves baseball and is the one who asked for it! I am not a narcissist!  I want Molly to be exactly who she is and I love her no matter what, unlike you!!!  If you loved your daughter and were an involved parent, you would know her baseball schedule!  But no. You don’t know. Because you don’t care about your daughter the way I do. It is not my job to be your secretary.   Figure it out!!

Sadly almost all of my cases involve some form of what I like to call “quacking.”  The Oxford English Dictionary defines the informal definition of “quacking” as to “talk loudly and foolishly.”  I define quacking as the terrible and unnecessary things that parents and ex-partners say to each other.  They excuse these comments (jabs, really) as “harsh truths” or “defending myself.” This kind of back-and-forth is unnecessary, hurtful to your co-parenting relationship (or negotiation of your separation) and downright harmful to your Court case.

I tell all of my clients just to ignore the quacking and simply respond to the underlying question.  For example, if I represent Parent A, I am going to coach them to respond as follows:

Parent A: I put Molly’s baseball uniform in her backpack so you would have it when you take her to practice tonight.

Parent B:  How dare you sign my daughter up for baseball!!!!!  Do you think she is a boy? Do you want her to turn out to be an ugly piece of sh*t like you?  You are a narcissist!!! You stopped taking care of yourself years ago you ugly hag. I don’t even know where the practice is tonight.  How dare you schedule her for something on my time!

Parent A:  The baseball practice is on Lincoln Field at 123 Forrest Street, Germantown, Maryland.

Reading both examples above, which do you think would play out better before a Judge?  I think the answer is pretty clear. In Maryland, Judges and Magistrates are required to consider a number of factors when deciding legal and physical custody.  One of the seminal cases which lays out factors that the Court must consider is Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290, 508 A.2d 946 (1986).  In Taylor, the Court of Appeals of Maryland specifically charges the trial court with considering is the capacity of the parents to communicate and to reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare.  In fact, the Court stated:

This is clearly the most important factor in the determination of whether an award of joint legal custody is appropriate, and is relevant as well to a consideration of shared physical custody.  Rarely, if ever, should joint legal custody be awarded in the absence of a record of mature conduct on the part of the parents evidencing an ability to effectively communicate with each other concerning the best interest of the child, and then only when it is possible to make a finding of strong potential for such conduct in the future.

Here are some tips to help you avoid the costly mistake of quacking back at your ex.

1)  You Do Not Need To Defend Yourself: You do not need to defend yourself to your ex. In the example above, Parent A was called a narcissist, accused of signing the child up for an activity without the consent of Parent B, called ugly and accused of not taking care of himself/herself. There is no need to respond to this quacking. None. Do not even waste your energy. The most tempting one to respond to is the accusation of signing the child up for an activity without the consent of Parent B. It is tempting to “remind” Parent B of their prior agreement or to point out for a Court or anyone reading the messages that you absolutely did not do this! Do not fall for this temptation. In Court the prior e-mails showing consent can be produced, so a Judge will see them.

2)  You Are Not Going To Awaken Your Ex To The Error of Their Ways: I sat with one client recently reading through the text messages to her soon-to-be-ex. She definitely engaged in some quacking. When we talked about it, she desperately wanted her soon-to-be-ex to step up and be a better father. Her quacking, was the “ If you loved your daughter and were an involved parent, you would know her baseball schedule! But no. You don’t know. Because you don’t care about your daughter the way I do.” type from the example above. She really hoped that by saying these type of things, her ex would “wake-up” and step-up to become a more involved parent. This type of quacking has about a 0% chance of waking up your ex. They are going to parent how they are going to parent. Typically this type of quacking is a left-over remnant from your relationship. You probably said these things when you were together, hoping to encourage your partner to become the type of parent you feel your child or children deserve. If it didn’t work while you were together, it is not going to work not that you are not.

3)  Do Not Believe Criticism From Someone You Wouldn’t Also Seek Advice From: We all have mentors and other people in our lives such as trusted friends or family from whom we seek advice. We ask these people for advice because we admire them, trust them, and we want their feedback, good or bad. This person should almost never be your ex. If you wouldn’t go and ask your ex for advice, you shouldn’t believe their criticism either.

4)  Answer The Question Asked or Implied: In the example above, the question wasn’t super clear, but it was available. Parent A said: “I don’t even know where practice is tonight.” Translation: Can you please tell me where the practice is tonight? Picture your child going to spend time with their other parent and becoming upset or frustrated when they miss or are late to baseball practice. Yes, it is not your job to be a secretary for your ex. It is, however, in your child’s best interest to make sure they get to baseball. So fork over the information quickly and move on with your day.

5)  It Is Okay To Put Down the Phone And Come Back Later: If your ex is quacking at you, it is okay to put down the phone (or tablet, or computer) and come back later to answer. Have a cup of tea. Go for a brief walk. Then come back to answer the question.

6)  If You Wouldn’t Write In That Tone To A Respected Boss, Do Not Write That Way To Your Ex: Text messages and e-mails to your co-parent should be business-like. After all, you are in the business of raising a child together. A good rule of thumb before pressing that “send” button is to picture the face of a trusted and respected boss or colleague and ask yourself if you would send a message like the one you are about to send to them. If not, you need a re-write!

No matter what, resist the urge to engage in quacking with your ex.  Remember that it is much more powerful to show a Court that you are the more mature parent than to tell them.  When your ex or your co-parent starts quacking at you, ignore the quack quack, answer the asked or implied question, give yourself a high-five because you no longer need to live with your ex or run yourself in circles responding to all of this nonsense,  and move on with your fabulous self and make it a wonderful day.

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